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Honours system that belongs in another era

BRACE yourselves for I have some terrible news to impart.

You might even like to pour a tumbler of fortified liquor but only if you promise to drink responsibly thereafter. What more can I say that will sweeten the blow, that will take the sting out of the dart? Nothing, I fear. Best perhaps simply to blurt it out and be done with it.

Both David Beckham and Andy Murray have not - I repeat not - been given knighthoods in the New Year's Honour List. Some pundits have deemed this an outrage and a blatant snub, suggesting that Mr Beckham and Mr Murray were overlooked because they are somehow not fit and proper people to be labelled 'Sir'. Others, such as myself, who believe that the honours system is a charade and a travesty and should have no part to play in modern society, couldn't care less.

Here, I should add that some of my best friends have been offered and accepted honours. For them, I have little but fraternal contempt. When pressed, they say that it actually means nothing, just a few letters before or after their names. Moreover, they will still happily talk to me as if we are equals. They have only joined the elite club, they insist, because to do otherwise would upset their mums. Sometimes, they go bright red when they say this, as well they might.

I've noticed, however, that these same friends are not averse to putting CBE or DSO or MFI in emails and on their business cards, as if by doing so doors will automatically open and maitre ds will bow and scrape to them like the unctuous factotums employed by the monarch and her hangers-on. But when I look at what they've done to earn such accolades I'm nonplussed. Why them and not me?

Journalists, needless to say, are among the worst offenders, having been given their gongs for writing paeans to Prince Charles's love of manure or his pater's off-colour patter while those who fearlessly exposed hypocrisy in the royal household - with regard, say, to its attitude towards Princess Di - are cold-shouldered. Not that they're bothered. Why would they be? They had reward enough in a job well done.

Those who champion honours argue that much has been done in recent times to recognise little men and ordinary women, such as lollypop ladies and traffic wardens, who don't just help you cross the road and fine you for parking illegally, but who will carry your bag while doing so. Fair enough. They doubtless deserve their pat on the back more than the Sir Humphreys of this world who've spent their careers trying to stop elected politicians doing their job. But there's no rhyme or reason to why one such person is honoured and countless others are not.

This is most apparent when you look at those who've been given knighthoods. At this point it is obligatory to mention a few of those whom Her Majesty has tapped on the shoulder. There's Anthony Blunt, for example, who, when he wasn't dusting the state's paintings, was passing its secrets to the Russians. Then there's Jimmy Savile, the serial rapist, Fred Goodwin, who came close singlehandedly to bankrupting the country, and Lester Piggott, the jockey who was so keen to reach the winning post he forgot to pay his taxes.

Who'd want to keep such company? Not me, and I'm less choosy than most. But it would appear that the Queen, by making knights of such errant individuals, is happy to. As the years go by, however, it is increasingly obvious that the system is less about reward and more concerned with shoring up the monarchy and the class hierarchy.

This is most evident during investitures when being in the mere presence of an octogenarian in a powder-blue suit is enough to make normally robust men and women turn to jelly. What, royal hacks want to know, did HM say to them? Nothing more significant or enlightening, it usually transpires, than is exchanged between a harassed customer and an assistant at a supermarket checkout.

Would that there was a movement for change, to sweep aside this spurious, outdated and clandestine custom. But there is none, more's the pity. Even come independence, it seems, the monarchy and its anachronistic patronage of we plebs must persist, fools that we are.

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